Wednesday, 18 July 2012

After the curry and with the MP, a write up (see preceding entry)

The Valley 16th July 2012
A dissemination of the discussion about Tyne Valley and North East Rail Services.
Notes by Robert Forsythe
Immediate Concerns
On the whole there are significant levels of satisfaction at present over reliability and pleasure at investment, like the Ticket Machine at Prudhoe, and the three interchanges that have opened.

There are important immediate concerns and they largely focus on capacity at peak hours and on special events. The gap of over an hour inbound from Hexham during the morning peak was discussed and I believe Northern understand this could be solved.  The user side understands Northern is and has progressed the last train issue (the new Prudhoe stopper). As ever the inability to collect revenue when the train is full concerns. This impacts on the Newcastle barrier situation.

The new football season starting late summer, and the Northumberland Show next year, are opportunities for Northern to show they can rectify problems which have been mentioned over many years. The timetable is not the challenge at these events if it is operated correctly, it is the capacity. I concluded Northern were determined to review this. In particular Gaynor Shotton from the County Show was invited to form a strong working relationship with the Northern management team and the Community Rail Partnership/Rail users group.

The need is : sufficient carriages for the NorthumberlandShow and the marketing of travelling by train. If the Show and the Railway could offer an advance purchase discount ticket, the railway can manage demand and those who turn up on the day with no ticket have to accept what can be offered. Robert Forsythe can show Gaynor sales literature for parallel events.

I think Northern were happy that on the performance of peak hours train like the strengthened 0742, and the 2013 Show and the football day services, attitudes towards the company in the Tyne Valley could be influenced.

The cost of tickets from stations west of Hexham are perceived as being disproportionately high. Northern offered to look closely at the pricing models from stations such as Bardon Mill and Haltwhistle. There are also issues around commuters who may only use the line 3 or 4 days a week have no incentive to purchase a season ticket (too expensive for their needs), and no multi- journey discount exists. A carnet ticket like the Harrogate line is needed.

There are several large employers in Newcastle (eg Northumbria University) whose staff travel on Northern. Whereas Nexus offers a direct sale of season tickets (at a discount) to large organisations who then sell them to their staff (managed directly through payroll), it was not felt that Northern offered a similar package.

Medium Term Concerns
Northern Rail will certainly operate the services for at least another two years. They have a new management team and the Valley side made the point that a much stronger management presence for the North East based around Newcastle is most desirable. My reading suggests the Northern team appreciated this? There could be changes within the franchise period?

There is an inherent challenge in a stand still franchise (the present one) experiencing clear and considerable growth. In the medium term the Northern team indicated there are further initiatives they could contemplate progress with (does not equal full implementation within the period). Specifically: much improved services for Dunston and Blaydon could be examined (this was from the Northern side). Gilsland is a candidate for re-opening with its World Heritage Site and Long Distance Path hub capability. Guy Opperman is ready to liaise with several parish councils and Rory Stewart MP over this, also Hadrian’s Wall Heritage. Commissioned studies have already indicated its viability.

The role of the Class 142 four wheel Leyland bus based Pacers will always be discussed at a meeting like this. They are not popular with passengers especially when crowded or on the curves at Newcastle. The Northern side did throw open the possibility that for cost effectiveness, they might be rebodied. Robert Forsythe suspects the Rail User side will wish to see this discouraged mightily in the future, from now forwards.

Longer Term
From 2014, there will be a new local train franchise for our area. This was actively discussed by all the parties.  Before this discussion however, everyone noted the 16th July 2012 Government  news about further  rail funding. Universal agreement that this is good for the country and for the rail industry. It for instance removes all Pacers from the South Wales Valleys making the Tyne Valley and other North East lines good candidates to use them last of all. There was also round table agreement that the investment news offers very little to the North East in terms of schemes. The Northern Hub concept  has spin off benefits, it might bring electric wires to Middlesbrough. But the North East has been marginal through the Northern Hub process and the further investment does not change this. All round the table agreed that the North East had not been good through the franchise period in progressing the several rail investment schemes possible in its area.

As a result, three probabilities post 2014 exist. Northern continue as our operator or another company on exactly the same patch. The Valley side articulated the view that could only work if there was a strong Newcastle management and a programme in the franchise for the North East. The present Northern franchise had started with a North East management team and it had been diluted.

The second option which current East Coast consultation allows for is that the new East Coast franchise takes Heaton depot including its local train work in North East England. Heaton is a jewel in the crown depot (Nick Brown MP), it is important to both local and mainline train operators out of Newcastle and it has a specialist maintenance record. The user side can see that within the industry there will be well hidden moves about the future of Heaton!

The third option is that the North East community organise themselves in advance of the DfT consultation and argue for a Northumbria  franchise for all the Heaton local train work. This is around 20 trains and even with expansion the probability is that no more than 35 trains are needed. It is not a large business but it is a natural geographic and business entity. It seemed that the Northern team could understand this thinking and that within their own business the powerhouse that is Lancashire and Yorkshire sets agendas?

There was considerable discussion about how successful first Manchester and then its neighbours had been in securing investment and in now adopting the Decentralisation philosophy. There was discussion about what the North East would need to follow this example. There are agencies who might lead: Nexus, North East Chamber of Commerce, Association of North East Local Authorities. So far no-one with authority had taken the lead role in a regional discussion. Guy Opperman is probably the most senior North Eastern politician leading a debate on it. It has to go further if it is to work with a local entity and soon.

The industry side suggested the community side needs to generate a “compact”, possibly through the vehicle of an LEP. A specific follow up to this Valley meeting could be a high level regional day conference on the future of local rail in the North East. Would the North East Chamber of Commerce lead? How would transport providers and politicians current react to that? This has to be scheduled before the DfT issue the consultation over the franchise and that is scheduled for later in 2012. MPs like David Milliband or Nick Brown who have so far not become involved may need to be.


This discussion the lead into the blue sky of what the North East asks for in its next franchise. There is quite a long shopping list. Peterlee Station and Tees Valley Metro (James Cook station) are at implementation or very near so). Leamside (Washington) and Ashington re-openings have all been talked about and studied in detail for years. SENRUG has a massive and explored vision over what could come from the Ashington project. The Northern side threw open the blue sky idea that Trans Pennine Express could terminate at Ashington.

On the Tyne Valley, Gilsland and Blaydon have already been spoken off by the rail users as priority. A Northern team member said think bigger. Ask to be electrified as part of the fleet renewal. Remember the importance to East Coast of the line as a diversion. Then you think the future has to be an electric Tyne Valley and Coast and Saltburn Bishop lines to get a thoroughly 21st century local rail network. All local trains would then be electric apart from Whitby. This opens the idea that part of what holds the Tyne Valley back is infrastructure. The present diesel trains have a speed in excess of most of the line speed. Improve the line speed limit and even with the present trains schedules could improve.

The evening ended then with three challenges: to Northern to deliver much closer and stronger local management connected to North East communities, to the User side to go out and get the North East community itself better connected to lobby for its own connectivity, the third challenge being to combine these two forces to create the next local train franchise on an expansive and not stand still basis.

Guy Opperman MP (the inviter)
From Northern Rail
Alan Chaplin Chief Operating Officer
Richard Allan Area Director for Yorkshire and Humberside, Tyne Tees and Wear.
Both above from 30th May 2012
Drew Halley Client and Stakeholder Manager Northern Rail
From Tyne Valley Rail Users Group/Community Partnership
Robert Forsythe  Prudhoe
Fiona Forsythe Prudhoe
John Gillott Heddon TVCRP partnership officer
Julie Gibbon Bardon Mill
Minnie Fraser Mickley
Alastair Fraser Mickley
Tony Geary Wylam
Tina Geary Wylam
From Northumberland Show (moving Corbridge>Bywell (Stocksfield Station)
Gaynor Shotton
From North East Chamber of Commerce
Mark Scandle
Facebook References Please ensure that you like these pages
Northumbria Rail Franchise Lobby Group
Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group
Tyne Valley Line Community Rail Partnership

1 comment:

robertatforsythe said...

The write up was done in ignorance of a key meeting that the Journal reported on 6th June. On the 20th April I contacted the Association of North East Local Authorities about a Northumbria franchise. I received no acknowledgement but evidently the issue is now being considered for real. News which had not filtered through to the MP, the Community Rail Partnership, the Line User Group or the Chamber of Commerce over four weeks later. I am very pleased the North East is giving the matter attention but saddened that it seems that district councillors don't want to look up or down the trees.